“Read all that is not written + believe me to be, as ever yours"
“Read all that is not written + believe me to be, as ever yours" (Correspondence & Chartres Cathedral. NadiaBoulanger & Ruth Robbins: 1941-1979)
This project is a series of experiments working with forty years of correspondence between my great-aunt Ruthie (1910-2005) and Nadia Boulanger (1887-1979).
Ruthie and I were extremely close. I grew up across the lawn from Ruthie’s cottage. A lot of my teenage years were spent digging through Ruthie’s collections. In her twilight years she sent me searching high and low for letters from her lifelong piano teacher, Nadia Boulanger.
Boulanger was a visionary genius teacher, who was buddies with Stravinsky, and taught a slew of avant garde American composers like Aaron Copeland, Virgil Thomson and Phillip Glass. Boulanger did stuff like arrange the music for Prince Rainier’s coronation in Monaco, and was the first woman to conduct the London, Boston and NY Philharmonic.
Ruthie pointed me to a treasure trove - we unearthed letters from Boulanger, from 1941 to 1979, the year that Boulangerdied. In the very last years of her life, Ruthie would sit at her desk and re-read her favorite letters every day. Boulanger wrote things like this to Ruthie:
"How big is our shrinked world ? i am here and you are there, and that makes all the difference.”
“Read all what is not written + believe me to be, as ever your, NB"
After Ruthie died, my uncle sent the letters off to the national library in Paris where they keep a collection on Boulanger. The library sent our family a big bound book of the letters that Ruthie sent to Boulanger.
The letters are often about making plans to meet again. Figuring out how to cross the Atlantic, or cross the country. As they move from the era of steamships to airplane travel, and the ladies age, their letters are always tender and full of devotion.
Ruthie was no musical genius, but it turns out that she was Boulanger’s favorite chauffeur - driving her from engagement to engagement, dropping her off at the white house for a dinner with JFK in her beat-up, over-burdened Volkswagen.
I have become especially fixated on a trip where Ruthie drove Boulanger through the night, from the south of France up to Paris. 40 km from the city, the sun was about to rise. Boulanger decided they should stop and watch the sunrise from inside of chartres cathedral. over the years they return to this morning in their letters. the cathedral filling with light and people. buying fresh milk and bread from a farmer as they head back to Paris through back roads.
This is one of my first tries at working with this material - 40 years of correspondence. It’s especially lucky that for the month of may, the person who lives in the little cottage that Ruthie lived and died in has been out of the house, and I was allowed to stay there, pouring over the letters, making strange little videos at dawn (see videos to the left). The house is a little cathedral to me.